German, PHS students meet thanks to USO outreach initiative

By Carola Meusel
USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs Office

Twenty-one eighth-grade German students from the Johannes-Kepler-Gymnasium in Bad Cannstatt visited Patch High School as part of a school outreach program Feb. 25.

The event, initiated by the United Service Organizations Stuttgart, aimed to bring German and American students together to learn about each other’s culture, the differences between the two school systems and above all, to make friends, according to Luisa Abaygar, the USO’s programs and volunteer coordinator and main organizer of the outreach.

“The USO is always trying to engage in programs that involve Germans since we wish to partner with the host nation,” Abaygar said. “The Johannes-Kepler-Gymnasium was open to the student exchange, and we’re hoping to continue this partnership in the long run.”

In advance of the students’ visit, Martin Sauer, the assistant principal at Johannes-Kepler-Gymnasium, visited the American students at PHS and discussed how the German school system works. Joe Holder, one of U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart’s School Liaison Officers, did the same at the German school.

The exchange program started Feb. 18 when 17 PHS freshmen, sophomores and juniors spent a day at Johannes-Kepler-Gymnasium to see what a German school is like.

When the German students came to PHS, they were welcomed by Holder, Daniel Coapstick, a German and math teacher at PHS, and USO’s Abaygar before pairing up with their American counterparts to attend drama, science, computer animation and physical education classes.

While the students were in class, Holder took the two accompanying teachers on a tour of PHS.

According to Ruth Böhm-Martin, an English and geography teacher at Johannes-Kepler-Gymnasium, most of the students didn’t know that U.S. Forces are still stationed in Stuttgart and therefore were surprised and excited about visiting an American high school in Germany.

“German students are always interested in the U.S. Here [Stuttgart], they have ‘little America’ right in front of their door,” Böhm-Martin said.

Besides the school, it’s also interesting for them to learn about the U.S. military in Stuttgart, she added.

“This is an outstanding opportunity for our students to interact with native speakers, strengthen relationships and learn about each other’s history,” said Cornelia Schwarzkopf, an English teacher at the German school.

For lunch, most PHS students took their German buddies to the Patch Food Court for a “real” American experience. While Sehne Bakery, Subway and Burger King are well-known to most Germans and available on the economy, Taco Bell is not, and that’s where most of the German students elected to dine.

Following lunch, all the students attended Daniel Coapstick’s German language class, where they discussed stereotypes and cultural differences.

“Today is about German-American friendship and overcoming stereotypes. These exchange programs are beneficial for all students since it’s a different approach to learning only from the books,” Coapstick said. “For our students this also makes for a good opportunity to meet German children,” he added.

Many of the German students said they felt as if they were in the U.S.

“The school looks exactly like in an American movie. The students and teachers are very nice and already friendly and familiar — I would like to go to school here,” said Aria Emir, of Johannes-Kepler-Gymnasium.

Classmate Alma Hasanbasic said she was impressed by the technical equipment such as smart boards, and the laptops that every student can sign up for … something that is not common in German schools.

For PHS 11th-grader Jonathan Brabazon, the exchange with the German school was an effective way to “put the German language to work.”

Matthew Lore, also an 11th-grader at PHS, said he enjoyed the student exchange and was impressed by the English skills of the students.

“The program is a great way to converse with German students. These exchanges are important and fun. It’s interesting to see how other people teach and to get a different experience,” Lore said.

The school day concluded with a social at the PHS library hosted by the USO. Here, students enjoyed cupcakes, snacks and a magic show before departing Patch Barracks and saying “auf Wiedersehen,” or goodbye, to one another.

According to the German and American teachers, the students truly enjoyed their day at PHS and many left as Facebook friends.

The next exchange event is planned for May during Stuttgart’s American Days (May 14-25): a reunion of PHS and Johannes-Kepler-Gymnasium students. The event will be held at the Deutsch-Amerikanisches Zentrum/James-F.-Byrnes-Institut (DAZ) in Stuttgart and is open to all interested in German-American student outreach programs.

For more information about the Johannes-Kepler-Gymnasium, visit here.